Legendary English punk band Wire has proven its ability to adapt to the modern age. Unleashing a new album upon its waiting fans, the record somehow combines hardcore punk, post-punk, art punk and alternative electronic music. This genre-fluid blend stands under a thematic umbrella of increasingly wary lyrics, detailing the qualms of living in a world in which people might be brainwashed into complacency. A play on the science fictional phrase “hive mind,” Mind Hive urges listeners to wake up and break free from the constraints of a stifling society.
Wire established itself in the alternative and punk communities in 1977 with its debut album, Pink Flag. To date, Wire has released a whopping 17 studio albums, each highlighting how the band’s sound has slowly but surely evolved into sophisticated punk. But while it is still debatable whether Wire is even punk, the band has no doubt made its name in the genre.
Mind Hive hits listeners right from the start with the growling dystopian track, “Be Like Them.” With its crunchy, distorted guitar, the song reads like some of Wire’s earlier works, but its lyrics and overall tone make the band sound like a brand-new group, just now breaking into the music scene. “It’s nothing new, hungry cats/ Getting fatter minds and thinner ideas,” preaches lead singer Colin Newman. But “Be Like Them” is only the beginning in a line of songs satirizing conformity.
After “Be Like Them” is “Cactused,” the first single off of Mind Hive. “Cactused” isn’t about cacti at all, but is rather a cautionary tune about the dangers of oblivion. The song transitions seamlessly into “Primed and Ready” and from there into “Off the Beach,” all of the tracks having similar and predictable sound structures. “Off the Beach,” while composed of deceivingly bright guitar chords, still fits the theme of waking listeners up to the consequences of immoral actions and inequality.
For most of the album, Wire stays true to its signature style of heavy, droning guitars, livened up by bright licks and accompanied by prominent drums. It’s as if the 1970s version of Wire traveled forward in time to make a new album — or at least the first half. But Mind Hive is still fundamentally different from anything Wire has previously made. It encompasses new musical genres, has an entirely different theme and gives off a gloomier atmosphere.
Mind Hive’s darker songs appear abruptly after consistently fast ones. “Unrepentant” and “Shadows” are softer songs, intended to break up the intensity of the album. They are oddly placed, however, making it seem as if they don’t belong on the album except lyrically. And with “Unrepentant” clocking in at 5 minutes long, it loses listeners’ attention. On their own, or perhaps on an album with a different overall sound, these songs would shine much brighter.
“Oklahoma” starts out slow, fooling the listener into thinking they’ll be listening to another slow-moving song, but it picks back up with a grooving beat. The lyrics are particularly strange — somehow stranger than the rest of the album — with lines like “I admire your sexy hearse/ You knew I was dying.” What Wire means here, we don’t want to ask.
The last few songs on Mind Hive sound as if the band channeled an aggressive Joy Division, Newman almost mimicking the vocal style of Joy Division’s late frontman, Ian Curtis. The 8-minute long “Hung” explores gothic and new wave sounds, putting the listener into a trance. By the time the song is over, it doesn’t feel like a full 8 minutes have passed. “Humming” is a fitting end for the album, exploring different sonic techniques. The dragged-on outro stays locked in the mind well after the song (and album) is over.
From start to finish, Mind Hive becomes progressively more futuristic. While listeners may question whether it’s the same album they began with, the message still stands strong throughout. Wire gets rawer with this album, straying from classic punk or alternative music and venturing into artful, experimental concept album territory. Mind Hive is a clear triumph for the band and, apart from a few awkward moments, reinforces Wire’s name as a group that paves its own path.
Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].